STUMP » Articles » Merry Christmas! Have Some Finalized 2021 U.S. Mortality Stats! » 23 December 2022, 10:41

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Merry Christmas! Have Some Finalized 2021 U.S. Mortality Stats!  


23 December 2022, 10:41

Here are the headlines:

WSJ: U.S. Life Expectancy Fell to Lowest Level Since 1996

Life expectancy in the U.S. fell again last year to the lowest level since 1996, federal data showed, after Covid-19 and opioid overdoses drove up the number of deaths.

Covid-19 was the third-leading cause of death for a second consecutive year in 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, and a rising number of drug-overdose deaths also dragged down life expectancy. Overdose deaths have risen fivefold over the past two decades.

The death rate for the U.S. population increased by 5%, cutting life expectancy at birth to 76.4 years in 2021 from 77 years in 2020. The CDC in August released preliminary estimates demonstrating a similar decline. Before the pandemic, in 2019, life expectancy at birth in the U.S. was 78.8 years. The decline in 2020 was the largest since World War II.

NY Post: Drug overdose deaths topped 106,000 in 2021, CDC says in final report

The United States hit a grim record of 106,699 drug overdose deaths in 2021, a 16% increase over 2020, the CDC said in its final report released this week.

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin, is driving the surge. Drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl jumped 22% in 2021, the CDC said. Heroin overdoses, meanwhile, decreased 32%.

The CDC previously reported that as many as 107,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2021, but revised that number down slightly in their final tally after examining death records.

The flow of fentanyl into the United States has not abated in 2022.

Yeah, the fentanyl problem was nasty before the pandemic, and it’s gotten worse.

CDC links

CDC: Mortality in the United States, 2021 is the HTML version, and this is the link to the PDF version.

Key findings

Data from the National Vital Statistics System

Life expectancy for the U.S. population in 2021 was 76.4 years, a decrease of 0.6 years from 2020.

The age-adjusted death rate increased by 5.3% from 835.4 deaths per 100,000 standard population in 2020 to 879.7 in 2021.

Age-specific death rates increased from 2020 to 2021 for each age group 1 year and over.

Nine of the 10 leading causes of death in 2021 remained the same as in 2020. Heart disease, cancer, and COVID-19 remained the top 3 leading causes.

The infant mortality rate was 543.6 infant deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021. The change in infant mortality from 2020 was not statistically significant.

I’m still waiting on CDC WONDER to add the 2021 data to the finalized database. Given timing, I’m not really expecting them to update it next week, but to update it in January.

That means the “surprise” I was planning for next week is not going to happen (don’t worry, I have a stranger surprise in store.)

I will note that none of these results is a surprise, in that they are close to the preliminary results we had from provisional data.

A report I did earlier for the Society of Actuaries:

2021 Provisional U.S. Population Mortality Key Observations – at the time, the estimated period life expectancy for the U.S. population was 76.1 years, and now they’re estimating it at 76.4 years… which isn’t much different, especially for such a crude metric.

Here is the updated life expectancy graph (and I’ll add the data going back to 1990, using data from

To keep it short and sweet, the period life expectancy is meaningless to you as an individual, if you are sitting here alive, reading my blog post.

(I assume no ghosts are punished to read my blog for the sins they committed in their lifetime. If you are, I’m going to assume you deserved it. And I will not explain the pertinency of period life expectancy to you.)

The point of the period life expectancy is to give you a population metric so you can compare mortality experience between different time periods or different groups. That’s it. It’s not for doing retirement planning or anything like that. Different metrics are used for those purposes.

But even then, you can’t say “Oh, the period life expectancy of 2021 was the same as 1996 or 1997, so the mortality was the same.”

Sorry, it’s too crude for that, because there are important differences in causes of death (obviously, no COVID back then, but also no fentanyl ODs back then, either) but also a different shape of death rates across age groups, geographies, etc. I can do comparisons another time.

So for now, below, I will give you some posts from STUMP/Mortality with Meep covering some of the important mortality themes of 2021.

STUMP links on 2021 mortality

This is not comprehensive. But it should hit some of the major 2021 mortality themes.

Overviews of 2021 U.S. Death Data

May 2022: Top Causes of Death for 2021: Heart Disease, Cancer, and COVID

Yes, we knew back in May. It takes a lot of time to do data-cleaning, etc.

May 2022: U.S. Mortality Trends Through the Pandemic

That one comes with a video:

Some of the ultimate 2021 stats may have changed since then, but they’re probably pretty close.

July 2022: Top Causes of Death in U.S. for 2021 by Age Group

Podcast episodes

In no particular order, but I’m stamping them with the month. I produce the podcast weekly.

You can follow the podcast through substack, or search for STUMP Death & Taxes on Apple Podcasts. It may have been picked up on other podcast services at this point, but I haven’t checked.

November: 2021 Provisional U.S. Population Mortality

September: Advice on the CDC 2021 Life Expectancy Report

August: Looking at Recent Mortality Increases — and Expectations for the Future

November: Movember and Prostate Cancer Mortality Trends

October: Geeking Out: Life Insurance and Mortality Experience Studies

July: Millennial Massacre Overview

November: Movember 2022: Men and Suicide

Apple Podcasts link:

I think that should work….

Age groups

Children — Age 1-17: Childhood Mortality Trends, 1999-2021 (provisional), Ages 1-17 Revisited: Teen Mortality Increased 30% 2019 to 2021

Young Adults — Age 18-39: approximately the Millennials in 2020-2021 Part 1 and Part 2, plus the podcast

Middle Agers — Age 40-59: approximately Gen X – Middle-aged Massacre (too!): Increase in Mortality for Ages 40-59 in the U.S. for 2020-2021 Mainly Driven By COVID

Young Seniors — Age 60-79: approximately Boomers – Baby Boomer Mortality Experience: Welcome to Old Age! 2020-2021 U.S. Mortality Increase for Ages 60-79 was Mostly COVID

Old Seniors — Age 80+: mainly Silent Generation (as older generations are mostly dead at this point) – Silent Generation Has Odd 2021: COVID Over 100% of 2021 Mortality Increase Compared to 2019 in the U.S. for those over age 85

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Merry Christmas!

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